Arnab Goswami-style journalism is killing the essence of debates

On the Monday edition of Times Now's show The Newshour, editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami referred to journalist Asad Ashraf as a 'cover for the Indian Mujahideen'. The following is Asad's own take on that particular situation and the present state of journalism as a whole

Asad Ashraf May 28, 2016 13:34:30 IST
Arnab Goswami-style journalism is killing the essence of debates

On the Monday edition of Times Now's show The Newshour, editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami referred to journalist Asad Ashraf as a 'cover for the Indian Mujahideen'. The following is Asad's own take on that particular situation and the present state of journalism as a whole:

As I sit to write this piece, images from the day Arnab Goswami called me a 'cover for the Indian Mujahideen' in his studio, return to my mind. If it's merely the thought of being called a terrorist that scares me, I wonder what it would be like for those who are implicated in cases of terrorism on false charges.

The takeaway from the events of that day not only jolt me, but also present a very grim picture of the time in which we are living. Journalism, once a respected profession has become a tool of hoop-la into the hands of certain promoters who use it as a mechanism to build public opinion and manufacture consent.

Arnab Goswamistyle journalism is killing the essence of debates

File image of Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami. Image courtesy: Facebook

I am sorry but I wouldn’t hesitate to say that Arnab, arguably the most well-known face of Indian TV journalism today is setting a precedent that is very dangerous for the future of this country.

He is teaching a whole bunch of young journalists, who follow him, not to question the narratives propounded by the state machinery, to believe every word of it and call every detractor an 'anti-national'. While in a democracy where journalism is considered the Fourth Estate, it is the duty of journalists to continue to be watchdogs.

He is bifurcating opinion into the plain binary of national and anti-national

Someone who agrees with him is a nationalist, while others are anti-national. In the name of debate, he is actually running media trials.

One can only imagine the absurdity of a situation, wherein he calls me a sympathiser of the Islamic State and a cover for the Indian Mujahideen just because I pondered over certain loopholes in the police version of the Batla House encounter.

However, what must have really annoyed Arnab is the fact that I not only questioned the authenticity of the encounter, but also the video — that was supposedly released by the Islamic State — featuring one of the ‘absconders’ of the Batla House encounter. And that this came mere months after Arnab allegedly played doctored videos of JNU students on his show must have hit him where it hurts the most.

As a journalist, with an acumen for investigation, Arnab should not only have agreed with me but should have also tried to investigate whether that video was at all genuine.

But on the contrary, I was asked by him that if it was a 'fancy-dress competition'?

Why not? It could have been a fancy-dress competition — a bit like hoax calls. Don’t we have hoax calls about bombs being planted?

Did the video undergo forensic examination before being aired on Arnab’s Newshour and becoming a matter of debate?

Tasleem Rahmani of the All-India Muslim Council, was right in pointing out the fact that even the employees of Times Now were not sure about the authenticity of that video as they ran the ticker, '#BatlamaninISIS' below the screen followed by a question mark.

But logic ceases to exist when it confronts Arnab Goswami on his Newshour show.

And what replaces it seems to be pure rhetoric woven into allegations and accusations.

However, I realise that I am myself engaging in things of which I have been accusing Arnab, and I am keen to maintain a thick line of difference between myself and him.

Therefore, when I talk about Batla House, I would use reason and logic to substantiate my claims — something that has serious doubts about the credibility of the police theory hovering around this encounter.

The guy apparently featuring in the Islamic State video — Bada Sajid  who allegedly fled from the Batla House encounter — has been declared dead twice before this video surfaced, according to media reports. Any well-meaning person would be curious to understand how a man who has died twice — once in Syria and then in Afghanistan — is alive again to send threats to India. But as I said, reason and logic have no place in Arnab's ‘fish market’ which he calls The Newshour.

If Arnab had bothered to go through the postmortem reports of the two boys killed in that encounter, he might have sat and contemplated his position, rather than shouting at the highest pitch in his studio and presenting himself as the jury. However, the wish to contemplate would only be aroused if there was an inner desire to investigate and reach out for the truth. Arnab, on the other hand, forces himself to believe things that suit his interest are more important than knowing the truth, probably because truth will never fetch him as much TRP as the ignorance of it will.

For TRP-chasers, ignorance is bliss. Then why should one come out of that comfortable zone of ecstasy?

Not least for those who have nothing to offer him except some respect and love. But love and respect have lost their meaning.

Atif Ameen and Sajid who died in that encounter had been hit by a bullet in the back and the head respectively, whereas the police claimed that there was a gun-battle from the front as soon as the cops entered the flat. Both of the deceased had injuries on their bodies that were caused after being hit by some flat object, clearly indicating that the boys were beaten before being shot. All these facts are on record.

If one examines the locality where the encounter took place, it wouldn’t be difficult to ascertain at first sight that it is nearly impossible for anyone to flee the encounter scene in such a heavy presence of the police force in the narrow lanes of Batla House.

Investigations also revealed that these boys had submitted their original documents in the police station while filling up the tenant verification form before renting out a flat. Even the most foolish man, who is a part of such a big conspiracy, will not make that mistake.

Why was a magisterial inquiry as per the guidelines of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India not conducted after the encounter?

This is among the many questions that will continue to haunt our democracy if legislators, executives, and the judiciary do not come together to rectify the mistakes committed by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police.

However, I would still refrain from calling this encounter 'fake', until a judicial probe is conducted into the matter, and I certainly wish that the findings of the probe actually come as a slap in our collective faces. But I doubt that will happen, which disheartens me.

Before I conclude, I agree that other journalists have the right to point out the defects in my investigation and pave the way for a constructive debate, in a bid to restore the essence of journalism and bring back the journalism of a time when ideas were debated. I fail to understand why the debates have been reduced to ‘us versus them’ and have turned into scuffles between inflated egos. Debate is about engaging with each other in search for the truth and not screaming at each other to score brownie points.

If things do not change for the better, the ultimate loser, in the end, will be journalists and journalism.

The author is a journalist with Tehelka

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